Erdoğan is preparing for the most difficult battle in his political history


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been the master of all elections in Türkiye for more than two decades.

The presidential elections that will take place on Sunday will put Erdoğan in a tight race with his opposition rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and it is difficult to believe that the feisty politician who ruled Türkiye with a firm fist would willingly concede defeat and leave office quietly.

A state of uncertainty, anxiety, anticipation and tension can be felt on the streets of the country about what the consequences may bring for the second largest country in Europe with a population of 85 million.

A large number of Turks, including a new generation of voters, yearn for change.

They were exhausted by the grinding inflation, the collapse of the lira, and the sharp decline in living standards, in addition to the devastating earthquake that occurred in February, which claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people and displaced millions.

Opinion polls show Kılıçdaroğlu ahead, but Erdoğan may still win given his strong support base among the pious working class in the heart of Anatolia.

Those who have followed Erdoğan’s rise over the past three decades believe he will fight by all means to retain power and may use state resources to his advantage to snatch a victory by a narrow margin or to contest any defeat by a narrow margin.

According to the Turkish voting system, any candidate becomes the winner by obtaining more than 50% of the vote, and if no candidate obtains this percentage, a round of re-determination of the winner takes place, which is a possible scenario because opinion polls show that Erdoğan and his opponent don’t obtain a majority.

Erdoğan is the most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded modern Türkiye a century ago, has accumulated power in his hands by adopting an executive presidential system of government, suppressed dissent, thrown critics and opponents into prison, pressured the media, judiciary and economy and sacked the last three central bank governors in two years.

After an attempted coup against him in 2016, he removed powerful generals, subjugated the army and put some officers on trial, followed by a crackdown on dissent.

To some extent, Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party have steered Türkiye away from Atatürk’s secular model and towards an agenda with Islamic reference.

His opponents describe him as a sultan who aspires to rival Atatürk as a historical figure.

Most economists attribute spiraling inflation, which touched 85% last year, and a long-running financial crisis to Erdoğan’s unorthodox policies and mismanagement.

Erdoğan says he will stick to his economic policy of lowering interest rates if he wins.

Three days before the vote, the militant Erdoğan has been showing off on television and in his campaign arena past successes in the form of mega-projects in defense, gas and industry.

Erdoğan’s fortunes were damaged by the deteriorating economy and what critics considered a lukewarm handling of the earthquake, especially after it was raised about the impunity of some construction contractors in the hardest-hit areas despite previous construction violations, which exacerbated the poor resistance of buildings to earthquakes.

Erdoğan along with his party came to power in the midst of an economic crisis and a devastating earthquake and will leave under the same circumstances, some opposition voices say, referring to the spiraling inflation of the 1990s following the Izmit 1999 earthquake.

Analysts point out that inflation and economic crises have historically led to the overthrow of every Turkish government that was considered responsible for the mismanagement of state affairs.

Many Turks struggle to cover the cost of food, education and housing rent after the minimum monthly wage for workers has become equivalent to $436 due to the devaluation of the local currency.

When Erdoğan came to power in 2003, Türkiye was in a state of economic recovery and seemed to be writing an amazing success story that its neighbors would envy.

Supporters, and even critics, credit Erdoğan and his team for the early achievements of improving the conditions of the poor by providing electricity and water supplies, increasing per capita income, distributing wealth, spreading health care, and building new schools, medical care centers, roads, bridges and airports.

Erdoğan’s supporters, as well as his liberal opponents, say Erdoğan has also made his mark by making Türkiye a regional power.

He also lifted the ban on the headscarf, allowing conservative women the freedom to work in the public sector and attend universities.

On the other hand, critics say he has given way to a new, corrupt class of “Anatolian tigers,” businessmen and construction tycoons, vested interests who have replaced the traditional blocs of the secular camp.

After successive electoral victories, Erdoğan’s tolerance for any challenge to his authority has dissipated, and the descent into authoritarian rule has become more evident.

The Turkish president weakened the important organs of the state.

Close allies of the past have moved into the ranks of the opposition.

Sunday’s vote could become a turning point.

Erdoğan’s defeat may return Türkiye to its more secular, democratic past, which Kılıçdaroğlu promised to revive by liberating institutions from the grip of the state.

Critics say Erdoğan’s victory could herald a greater crackdown on political opponents and on what remains of independent institutions.

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